Learn Vietnamese Alphabet – Lesson 5

Vietnamese Alphabet – Introduction to the Vietnamese Writing and Pronunciation Systems

The Vietnamese Language is the mother tongue of some 90 million Vietnamese living in Vietnam and over 3 million living in other countries, particularly in France. The United States, Canada and Australia.

Vietnamese has a Romanized writing system and is a tone language, that is, each syllable is formed with at least one vowel accompanied by a tone (or musical pitch) which is meaningful and forms part of the syllable.

A Ă Â B C D Đ  
/a/ /ɒ/ /^/ /bə/ /kə/ /zə/, /jə/ /də/
E Ê G H I K L  
/ɛ/ /e/ /gə/ /hə/ /i/ /ka/ /lə/
M N O Ô Ơ P Q  
/mə/ /nə/ /ɔ/ /o/ /ə/ /pe/ /ku/
R S T U Ư V X Y
/rə/ /ʃə/ /tə/ /u/ /ɯ/ /və/ /sə/ /i/

The Vietnamese Alphabet

The Vietnamese Alphabet is composed of 12 vowels and 17 consonants:

Vowels There are 12 vowel symbols in the Vietnamese alphabet but only 11 vowel phonemes
Vietnamese spelling Phoneme Rough English Equivalent Remarks Example Meaning
A /a/ Father The open /a/ Anh Elder brother
Ă /ɒ/ Hat The fronted half-open, shorter and tenser than /ɐ/ Ăn To eat
 /^/ But The retracted half-close somewhat similar to /^/ in but Âm Sound
E /ɛ/ Bet The half-open somewhat similar to /ɛ/ in bet Em Younger brother/sister
Ê /e/ May The half-close somewhat similar to /e/ may but without the y sound Êm (đềm) Soft

I or Y

/i/ Me The close
similar to /i/
in me but with tongue slightly retracted
Im (lặng) Quiet
O /ɔ/ Law The half-open
similar to /ɔ/ in law
Ong Bee
Ô /o/ No The half-close
similar to /o/ in no, so; but without the V-like sound at the end
Ông Mr
Ơ /ə/ Fur The half-close
similar to /ə/
in fur but without the R sound

Ơn

 

Favour
U /u/ Put The close
similar to /u/ in put with rounded lips
Úc Australia
Ư /ɯ/ Uh-uh The close
somewhat similar to /ɯ/ but with lips pulled & not rounded

Ưa (thích)

To like

 


Consonants
There are 28 consonant symbols in Vietnamese alphabet but only 21 consonant phonemes and only eight of them may be in final positions. They are marked with an asterisk in the following chart.
Vietnamese spelling Phoneme Rough English Equivalent Remarks Example Meaning
*CH / t∫/ Chop Unaspirated palatal, less friction than in English Cho To give
GI /z/
/j/

Zone

Yes

Ordinary: Lenis lamino-dental

 

What
GH /g/ Go Elsewhere: Voiced dorsorelar Ghế Chair
KH /k/ Cousin Lenis voiceless dorsorelar common spirant Không No
*NG or NGH /ɳ/ Singer Similar to /ɳ/ sound in medial positions is in singer. Velar – nasal in final position: short unreleased

Ngon

Mang

Nghe

Delicious

To bring

To hear

*NH /ɲ/ Canyon Palatal in final position: Short unreleased often backed.

Nho

Nhanh

Grape

Quick

PH /f/ Phone Voiceles labio dental Phải Right
TH /θ/ Thin Lenis aspirated detal to /o/ but with stronger aspiration Thăm Visit
TR /tr/ Try Fortis unaspirated Palatal, less than in English. Somewhat similar to /tr/ in entry, but with the tip of the tongue pulled back

Trên

Above

 

Tonemes The standard Vietnamese Language has six tones. Each tone is a meaningful and intergral part of the syllable with which it is associated; every syllable must have a tone. The tones are indicated in conventional Vietnamese spelling by marks placed over (á, à, ả, ã) or under (ạ) single vowels or main stressed vowels in vowel clusters (v).

Vietnamese spelling

Phoneme

Rough English Equivalent

Remarks

Example

Meaning

B or *P /b/ Bed Fortis preglottalised imploded in final position: Unreleased Ba Three/father
*C or K or Q /k/ Can Fortis, unaspirated

Ca

Học

Kem

Qua

To sing

To study

Ice-cream

To cross

D /z/
/j/

Zone

Yes

Ordinary: Lenis lamino-dental

 

Da Skin
Đ /d/ Do Fortis preglottalized imploded Đi To go
G /g/ Go Elsewhere: Voiced dorsorelar Ga Railway station
H /h/ Hat Glottal fricative and voiceless Hai Two
I /l/ Lot Lamino – Alreolar – Lateral Làm To do
*M /m/

Me

Him

Bilabial – Nasal
in final position: unreleased

Mai

Tim

Tomorrow

Heart

*N /n/ Not
In
Post dental – nasal
in final position: unreleased

Nam

In

South

To print

R /r/ Run Voiced Palato – Alveolar Ra To go out
S /ʃ/ Show Voiceless Palato – Alveolar Sữa Milk
*T /t/ Top Voiceless unaspirated – dental in final position: Unreleased

Tôi

Tốt

Me

Good

V /v/ Very Voiced labio – dental And
X /s/ See Voiced alveolar similar to /s/ in see Xa Far

 

Vietnamese name Tone mark Tone Description Example Meaning
Không dấu V Voice starts at about the middle of the normal speaking voice range (3) and remains at approximately the same level except before a pause. Ma Ghost
Dấu sắc High-rising Voice starts high (4) and rises sharply. This tone Is loud and tense Cheek
Huyền Low-falling Voice starts at a fairly low (2) and gradually But
Nặng Low-broken Voice starts a little below the middle of the voice range, fails Immediately, then rises to a some-what higher point, and finally Is cut off abruptly Mạ Rice seeding
Hỏi Low-rising Voice starts quite low, dips slightly and then rises rather slowly to a some-what higher level Mả Tomb
Ngã High-broken Voice starts just a little above the normal speaking voice range, dips down a very little, then rises abruptly Horse

This is the end of lesson 5 about Vietnamese Alphabet. To learn about Vietnamese Grammar, please follow this link

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